JAKARTA – Five months after its closure, the doors of the Al-Hidayah mosque were sealed with wooden planks and crisscrossed with yellow police tape, as if it some kind of grisly crime had taken place within. Barred from entering their house of worship by official order, four young men held their midday prayer in the heat outside, their bodies bent towards a large sign driven into the concrete by the local authorities. Its message was emblazoned in red: “Activities are banned.”
In February, police converged on this green-tiled mosque in Depok, 15 kilometers south of the Indonesian capital Jakarta, to enforce an order sealing off the building until further notice. The order followed a clamor from Islamic fundamentalists, who held protests calling for the expulsion of this small congregation of Ahmadi Muslims from the district. “We had a permit to build this mosque, so we have no idea why they sealed it,” said Abdul Gofur, 42, the caretaker of the site.
The unpretentious Al-Hidayah mosque, a box-like building lacking the otherworldly dome and minaret of many Muslim houses of worship, has a long history of run-ins with the local authorities. Gofur said the mosque had been “sealed” six times since 2011, and has survived a concerted campaign from hardline vigilante groups, including the notorious Islamic Defenders Front, or FPI, which sees Ahmadis as heretics and apostates.
On June 23, two nights before Idul Fitri (as Eid al-Fitr is known in Indonesia), the festival marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, Gofur said that white-robed militants pelted the building with eggs and paint, and strung up spray-painted banners calling for the expulsion of the Ahmadiyah. The 400-strong congregation has erected its own signs reading, “Love for All, Hatred for None.”
The Ahmadi minority numbers around 500,000 people scattered across this island nation of 260 million. The sect is not officially recognized in Indonesia, which acknowledges just six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. While most Ahmadiyah see themselves as Muslims, they cleave to unorthodox tenets: the sect has its own holy text, the Tadzkirah, and does not regard Muhammad as the final prophet – a belief that many Indonesians see as heresy. As a result, they have become both a subject of official discrimination, and a target for religious vigilantes.
Things got particularly bad after 2007, when a leading clerical body declared the Ahmadiyah a deviant sect; the following year, then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a decree banning Ahmadi Muslims from disseminating their faith. Following the decree, mosques were shuttered and burned, and members of the community were subject to violent attacks. In February 2011, west of Jakarta in Banten province, three Ahmadi men were beaten to death by a mob; the perpetrators received only light sentences. According to the Jakarta-based Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, which monitors religious freedom in Indonesia, there have been a total of 546 violent incidents against Ahmadi Muslims since 2007.